Plyometrics is explosive exercise that makes you stronger, faster and fitter. In any sport that requires sudden bursts of speed, high jumps, powerful throwing and hitting or quick direction changes, plyometrics can improve your speed and reaction time. The exercise works by lengthening and immediately shortening muscles, which produces the same instant power surge as stretching and suddenly releasing an elastic band. Add a plyometrics routine to your workouts for a competitive edge in weekend sports.
Structure a Session
Follow the same structure for plyometrics routines as you do for aerobics and strength training. Warm up before a session for at least 10 minutes. Start each exercise slowly, checking your form and finding your balance. Increase the speed of an exercise gradually for maximum gain, and rest in between each set. Sports Fitness Advisor recommends gradually increasing intensity from easier to more challenging exercises to lower injury risk. Start with low-intensity jumps and medicine ball throws and progress to high-intensity depth jumps when your fitness level improves. Keep volume low at first. A repetition is a ground contact. Aim for no more than 80 to 100 contacts when you are starting out. Limit plyometrics sessions to two or three per week with 48 to 72 hours between workouts. Stretch after plyometrics when muscles are thoroughly warm.
Select Your Moves
Create plyometrics routines with a trainer to hit the right muscles and moves for your goals. You could blast into low hurdles and low drop jumps, after a warmup, to build power and resilience. Add standing long jumps and high hurdles for speed, and close a session with challenging drop jumps, from heights of more than 12 inches, to develop strength. You could begin with large moves, such as low hurdles, gradually concentrating the action closer to the body with bounding and hopping, jumping on and off steps or low boxes and tossing a medicine ball for arms, chest and abs. An ideal routine accommodates your fitness level and increases your skills with a minimal number of exercises.
Plyometrics exercises are as simple as jumping rope and as taxing as bounding over hurdles. Jumping rope is low intensity but it will work all your major muscle groups. Try intervals – 30 seconds of jumping and 30 seconds of recovery. Keep your back and legs straight, soften knees and relax your shoulders. Turn the rope with your wrists and land on the balls of your feet. Squat jumps are a little harder. Bend your knees into a squat and then bolt up into a jump with arms raised to the ceiling. Land in a bent-knee squat, arms down, and jump again. Start with 10 reps and three sets, resting between sets. Your quads stretch as your knees bend and then contract to power the next jump. For upper body, a tough exercise is a clap pushup which stretches and shortens pectoral muscles as the mid-action clap cuts contraction time.
Create routines to mimic the moves of your favorite sport. For beach volleyball or pick-up basketball, do overhead throws with a medicine ball, five reps and 10 sets. Single-leg vertical jumps are challenging. Remember to keep the knee softened to cushion landings. Single-arm medicine ball throws intensify the workout. For advanced jump training, incorporate depth jumps off a box, adding a medicine ball throw to copy the complex simultaneous actions in a game. For racket sports, work upper and lower body with split squat jumps and lateral push-offs for the legs and single-arm overhead throws and side throws with a medicine ball. In plyometrics, quality, not quantity, is what counts. Do each exercise five times and work up to eight to 10 reps. Aim for focus, precision and explosive power. It takes only a few well-chosen moves to up your game.
Preparation and Precautions
You’re a candidate for plyometrics if you are conditioned. Work on your fitness with aerobics and resistance training before adding plyo to your routine. You should have good muscle tone and good balance in order to focus on technique. UK athletics coach Brian Mackenzie recommends extreme caution about landing surfaces. Always land on grass, rubber mats or a sprung wood floor and wear well-cushioned sneakers to absorb impact and spare your joints. Work with an experienced plyometrics trainer if you are starting out or significantly intensifying an existing routine. Check with your health care provider if you have any medical conditions that could raise your risk for injury. You may need an orthopedic screening before beginning plyometrics training.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .